New clandestine service to coordinate U.S. spying

Arrangement aimed at unifying activities of 15 intelligence agencies

October 14, 2005|By SIOBHAN GORMAN | SIOBHAN GORMAN,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON -- A new spymaster will for the first time coordinate clandestine activities across all 15 U.S. intelligence agencies, a move aimed to address one of the key recommendations of a presidential commission on intelligence failures.

The new chief -- known publicly only by his first name, "Jose," because he is still an undercover officer -- will head a new National Clandestine Service, responsible for running spy operations at the CIA and managing the spy activities of the other intelligence agencies.

The purpose of the new service will be to give the country "a more cohesive and truly national human intelligence capacity," Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte said in a statement yesterday.

Although Jose's responsibilities will broaden under this setup, it remains unclear whether he will have the authority to compel leaders of other intelligence agencies to follow his plans.

"We won't tell the FBI how to do their business," a senior intelligence official said yesterday. "We won't tell [the Defense Department] how to do their business."

That official and one other briefed reporters at CIA headquarters yesterday on the new service. The briefing was provided on condition that the officials -- one from Negroponte's office, the other from the CIA -- not be identified by name.

The new arrangement falls short of what the presidential commission recommended and what the White House proposed, said a former intelligence official who was involved in planning the service and asked not to be identified.

Initially, the administration wanted CIA analysts to focus on improving human spying activities, just as National Security Agency analysts focus on eavesdropping on electronic communications.

But, the former official said, some at the CIA argued that such a change would diminish the role of the agency's analysts and hurt morale. So, that analysis wing will not be affected by the new service.

The service is the product of nearly four months of debate among intelligence agencies about how to bring together the efforts of U.S. spy agencies.

Jose will take on a larger role than he currently has running the CIA's spy operations. He will have two deputies: One will run the CIA's spy operations, the other will be responsible for unifying the spying operations of the other intelligence agencies. The second deputy also will oversee covert operations.

The main agencies with spying capabilities are the CIA, the FBI and the Pentagon, and when intelligence operations require domestic or military spying capabilities beyond the CIA's traditional techniques, Jose must ensure that those agencies work with, not against, each other.

The new clandestine service will establish uniform practices for vetting sources, writing intelligence reports and spying techniques. For example, CIA agents have certain procedures for using cell phones in operations. The new office will ensure every agency follows the same procedures.

It also will develop a common language for all agencies to use in discussing intelligence matters because many words -- even "clandestine" -- have different meanings to different agencies.

The move raises the stature of the CIA and its spy division, whose morale has sagged as several top officials left in the last year after clashes with CIA Director Porter J. Goss.

Creating the new service at the agency, "underscores CIA's proud position as the center of gravity" for human spying in the U.S government, Goss said in a statement.

One of the officials at yesterday's briefing said it was held at the CIA to emphasize the importance of the agency's ownership of the new service.

The official called these changes "a big step" and the first set of changes to U.S. government spying since the CIA was created in 1947.

Yet, the two officials appeared conflicted about how much change this new arrangement would really produce.

Early in the briefing, one official said, "There's no change in the authorities, there's no change in the responsibilities that the historic director of operations has had." Later, he said the new arrangement would remake the Directorate of Operations into a service with "a lot more responsibility, a lot more capability, and a lot more authority."

While he has a larger role on paper, Jose will not be able to direct the operations of other agencies, the two senior intelligence officials said.

Reaction on Capitol Hill was mixed. The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Kansas Republican Pat Roberts, has said that because Negroponte's office is independent of the intelligence agencies it would be more effective at overseeing them.

"Now that the decision has been made to vest that authority in a National Clandestine Service under the direction of the CIA, I have a number of questions in regards to this latest reorganization," he said yesterday.

But the senior Democrat on the committee, Sen. Jay D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, praised Negroponte and called the new arrangement "the right decision."

The White House said it is satisfied with the arrangement.

"The president supports the decision," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. "This was a key recommendation of the bipartisan [presidential commission], and it will help us further strengthen our human intelligence capabilities."

siobhan.gorman@baltsun.com

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